By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Fascists. Communists. Cartels. For Emilio Izquierdo, there is no linguistic limit to the depravity of Miami-Dade's limousine industry and the public officials who are supposed to regulate it. For five years, the 62-year-old Cuban has fought to operate his 2005 GMC Yukon as a luxury limo for celebrity clients such as Shakira. But the county has ignored his pleas, instead slapping him with thousands of dollars in fines for driving without the proper permit.
"All I want is my piece in the American pie," argues the loquacious Izquierdo, who says he didn't survive a Cuban concentration camp just to end up a "slave" for a big limo company in Miami. His beef is with Miami-Dade's Consumer Services Department (CSD), which issues limo permits to large limo companies as well as individuals. But Izquierdo says the permit game is rigged against the little guys, and he just might be right.
Since 2000, Miami-Dade has held three lotteries for new limo permits. But by county code, two-thirds must be given to companies or individuals that already own at least one. In other words, the system is set up to let big firms grow, not to allow new competition.
Even worse, little guys like Izquierdo are priced out. Although lottery contestants can enter up to ten applications, each one costs $100. "That's $1,000 just for the chance to get a permit," says Izquierdo, who submitted single, unsuccessful applications in 2006 and 2008. "I can't afford that." But large limo businesses can, drastically improving their chances. And they can also afford to buy permits directly from other companies for the going market rate of $12,000.
The county isn't scheduling any new lotteries either. "Right now, there's not enough demand for the existing supply of limos," CSD spokesperson Sonya Perez says. Izquierdo says there is plenty of demand from the little guys.
Unless his 5-year-old proposal to create a new category of permits for owner/operators gets heard, the chauffeur has little choice but to keep on breaking the law — and racking up fines.
"To them, I'm the bad guy creating problems," Izquierdo says. "But the county just doesn't like me because I'm not corrupt, like they are. I want to work for myself — that's it."